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After Ackerman

(Published May 22, 2000)

Forget the expensive national search for a "qualified" person to be the next permanent superintendent of D.C. Public Schools.

As a city, we have for far too long let ourselves become overly dependent on so-called "experts" of national stature to lead us out of municipal morass. Trouble is, the outside experts haven’t solved our problems. For the most part, they’ve increased their personal net worth at taxpayer expense, used us to bulk up their resumes and moved on to further advance their careers. And when they leave, shortly after "beginning" to solve our problems, the problems remain in our midst.

Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s resignation, effective in mid-July after a tumultuous two years at the helm, should be seen as an excellent opportunity for the District’s many diverse communities to pull together to create the exemplary public school system that our children need and deserve.

The expertise to do that already exists right here.

Our public schools need a leader who doesn’t require expensive enticements to become part of our city. We need to select a leader who already has roots in the D.C. area, who is familiar with our schools – their problems and potential, their personnel.

Our schools need a leader who can hit the ground running by having the local knowledge necessary to make informed decisions without wasting precious time and money on studying the things D.C. residents have known for years.

And when the going gets tough – as we all knew it eventually would for Arlene Ackerman when she first arrived – we need a leader whose connections to our city will make him or her dig in those heels and continue to fight for our city’s children rather than throwing in the towel.

There’s a lot to be said about having roots in your community.

Forget those often-cited fears of "cronyism" as the reason we should once again look outside the area for our leaders. D.C. taxpayers already know that our leaders simply bring their old friends to power with them. We don’t have to look far for examples – Deputy Superintendent Elois Brooks came from Seattle, as did Superintendent Ackerman, and Police Chief Charles Ramsey, from Chicago, brought us Executive Assistant Chief Terrence Gainer from the Illinois State Police. For that matter, even Mayor Anthony A. Williams used an expensive national search to turned up an old friend from New England, Vanessa Dale Burns, to head the Department of Public Works.

So-called "experts" – who all claim to know better than D.C. residents what is best for D.C. – have simply cost city taxpayers millions during the past several decades and given us little return on our investment.

D.C. knows what’s best for D.C. – and the Congress, the presidentially appointed control board and the mayor need to learn to show the same level of respect for D.C. residents’ ability to control their own destiny that other communities’ residents are routinely accorded.

Especially in the case of our public schools, we cannot expect to inspire excellence when the message being sent by our leaders is that the products of our public schools – whether our graduates or our public employees – are not qualified to lead.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator